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Changes in nutritive characteristics associated with plant height, and nutrient selection by dairy cows grazing four perennial pasture grasses

Cullen, B. R., Bullen, D., Hutcheson, C., Jacobs, J. L., Deighton, M. H.
Animal production science 2017 v.57 no.7 pp. 1392-1397
Bromus catharticus var. catharticus, Dactylis glomerata, Festuca arundinacea, Lolium perenne, crude protein, dairy cows, field experimentation, grasses, grazing, guidelines, herds, metabolizable energy, neutral detergent fiber, nutrients, pasture plants, pastures, perennials, spatial distribution, spring, tillers, winter
Previous research has documented nutritive characteristics of perennial ryegrass-based pastures and subsequent nutrient-selection differentials when dairy cows graze such pastures, but there has been little comparable research on alternative pasture grasses. The aim of the present study was to compare the pre-grazing nutritive characteristics of four perennial grasses, how nutrients vary with plant height, and selection differentials achieved by dairy cows grazing these grasses in late winter and late spring. The study utilised an established field experiment, with four replicates of monoculture swards of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea Schreb.), cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata L.) and prairie grass (Bromus willdenowii Kunth.), in western Gippsland, Victoria. Eighty individual tillers per replicate were sampled to ground level immediately pre- and post-grazing in late winter (July–August, vegetative tillers only) and late spring (November–December, vegetative and reproductive tillers sampled separately), dissected into three height categories (0–5 cm, 5–10 cm and 10+ cm) and analysed for nutritive characteristics. For vegetative tillers in both seasons, perennial ryegrass had the highest estimated metabolisable energy concentration and lowest neutral detergent fibre concentration of all species. In spring, reproductive tillers had consistently lower nutritive characteristics than did vegetative tillers. Selection differentials, calculated as the ratio of nutritive characteristics selected by the herd to that available pre-grazing, showed that cows selected herbage with higher crude protein concentration but there was little evidence for selection of higher metabolisable energy concentration. The selection differentials reflected the vertical distribution of nutrients in the tillers. The present results have provided new information to assist in developing grazing guidelines for alternative perennial grasses.